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Navajo Nation begins a gradual reopening

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Navajo Nation government offices and private businesses will begin a gradual reopening Monday, the first major change to the reservation’s public health orders since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in March.

The reservation has moved from a “red” status of high restrictions to an “orange” phase of moderate-high restrictions based on three criteria: the number of COVID-19 cases, testing accessibility and hospital capacity.

Case numbers are “really steady at this point,” said Dr. Jill Jim, director of the Navajo Department of Health. But residents and visitors should continue to wash their hands, wear masks and practice social distancing.

“People still have to get food; people still have to go to school,” Jim said during a video update Thursday. “We still have to move around in the Nation, but it has to be done safely and gradually.”

The Navajo Nation reported its highest case numbers in May, with several days exceeding 150 new cases. At that time, the Navajo Nation had the country’s highest reported case rate. Overwhelmed tribal hospitals transferred critical COVID-19 patients to facilities in Albuquerque and Phoenix.

Navajo officials will monitor contact tracing and new cases by region to decide when to relax more restrictions.

Assisting with contact tracing on the reservation are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New Mexico Department of Health and the nonprofit COPE.

Navajo government offices will conduct temperature screenings for employees.

Most Navajo businesses will be allowed to reopen at 25% of maximum occupancy. Restaurants and banks will be drive-thru only. Barbershops and hair salons will be appointment-only.

Businesses not allowed to operate in the orange phase include casinos, youth programs, museums, flea markets, roadside markets, gyms, recreation facilities and movie theaters.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has encouraged schools to implement online learning.

“We recognize that there are challenges including the lack of adequate telecommunications infrastructure to support online learning for all students, and we are advocating to use CARES Act funds to help address that issue,” Nez said in a statement released Thursday.

The Navajo Nation reported 38 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday, for a total of 9,394 cases and 478 deaths. More than 6,900 people have recovered from the disease.

The reservation has a nightly curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and a weekend lockdown from 9 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Monday.

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